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NEWS BRIEFS: High court to hear crucial religious liberty case

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted what one First Amendment expert described as “the most important religious-freedom case in 20 years.”

The high court announced March 28 it would review a lower-court ruling against a Michigan church’s right to fire for insubordination a teacher at its school. The teacher — who was a “commissioned minister” in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — filed suit, claiming discrimination. A federal judge ruled in favor of the church, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, struck down the decision, reasoning the teacher spent more time in her day teaching “secular” subjects than religious ones.

The justices’ opinion will impact churches, schools and other ministries who make employment decisions about who will teach and lead.

Richard Garnett, law professor at the University of Notre Dame, called the case “huge” and the most significant one in two decades.

Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the church, said his organization is confident the court “will reject the idea that judges should be telling churches who will teach the faith to the next generation. If ‘separation of church and state’ means anything, it means the government doesn’t get to pick religious teachers.”

The case is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

VA. GETS TOUGHER ON ABORTION CLINICS — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law March 26 a bill to require abortion clinics to abide by the standards expected of hospitals. The law is the first in the country to mandate such regulations for clinics performing first-trimester abortions.

Abortion-rights advocates have decried the measure, which could control such things as the width of hallways. They have said possibly 17 of Virginia’s 21 abortion clinics might have to close, The Washington Post reported.

“Everyone, including abortion facility operators, should be able to agree that abortion clinics should not operate with less oversight than veterinary clinics, as they do in many states,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, after the bill’s passage. “Women deserve much better.”

The state’s Board of Health will write regulations to govern enforcement of the new law.

The Senate’s passage of the legislation came when Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the presiding officer, broke a 20-20 deadlock. McDonnell is a Republican as well.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.